Image courtesy of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), Oak Ridge National Laboratory
How do you turn a Jaguar into a Titan?
If you're a researcher at the Office of Science's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), you start by upgrading its processors, doubling its memory and adding a whole passel of new processing units.
Jaguar is a sort of silicon animal, the most powerful supercomputer in the United States. Operated by the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), it was recently capable of doing some 2,300 trillion calculations per second, about 2.3 petaflops. (It would take you more than 70 million years to do the same thing at the rate of one calculation per second, and that doesn't include the extra time needed to sharpen your pencil, count on your fingers and figure out if you need to carry the one.)
Jaguar will get even faster this year, thanks to an upgrade which by fall will transform it into a "Titan" of power and performance, with a peak performance of between 10 and 20 petaflops. The first phase of the upgrade, which was completed last month, improved Jaguar's performance to 3.3 petaflops. Doing so required a variety of improvements including doubling Jaguar's memory to 600 terabytes; upgrading its cores (its "brains") and increasing their number by a third (to just short of 300,000), as well as adding nearly 1,000 graphical processing units (GPUs).
The addition of the GPUs gives Jaguar plenty of room to grow. While conventional computer processors might have up to eight computer cores, GPUs can have hundreds. That gives them the ability to perform far more calculations per second than conventional chips, but at about the same power. Thousands more GPUs will be added to Jaguar in subsequent upgrades, which means that when it becomes Titan, the supercomputer will run on about the same energy as Jaguar, but perform at a much greater power.
In simpatico with the hardware upgrades, OLCF programmers are also revising the supercomputer's software so it can operate at the higher petaflops and take advantage of the potential offered by GPUs. Those improved programming tools are likely to be important not just at Oak Ridge, but across the Office of Science as it accelerates scientific computing.
In this decade, the Office of Science, along with its partner the National Nuclear Security Administration, aspires to build machines capable of running at the exascale, of performing a million-trillion calculations each second. The Office of Science is also building an ultra-high speed network running at 100 Gigabits per second (Gbps)—at least ten times faster than commercial Internet providers—which connects its three supercomputing centers, at Argonne, Oak Ridge and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.
The speed of this network will keep America on the cutting edge of discovery and innovation, even as the upgrade to Jaguar will keep the country competitive with other supercomputer powers like China and Japan.
From fast to ultra-fast, high performance to ultra-high performance: That's what's necessary to keep the U.S. innovative and competitive in an ultra-innovative and ultra-competitive world. And that's why the Office of Science is turning a Jaguar into a Titan.
For more information about Oak Ridge, please go to: http://www.ornl.gov/.
Charles Rousseaux is a Senior Writer in the Office of Science.